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A Tremendous History and Culture Overview of Manizales, Colombia

A Tremendous History and Culture Overview of Manizales, Colombia

Travel, Lifestyle, Manizales

The history of Manizales, comes to life on the backs of the Arrieros, or mule teamsters and continues with the hopes and dreams of the “Expedition of 20” who came and carved out a life in what is now the City of Manizales. Some of the original interests in the region were based on the mining potential by a gray quartz-like rock called the “manizal.” Gold discovery in the region spurred further interest by early colonials and by 1848, Manizales had been founded.

The Expedition of 20

El Monumento de Colonizadores – Manizales

In 1834, a small colony was founded by Fermin Lopez on Cerro de San Cancio, known today as Palermo. The colony was unable to gain the force it needed and it’s members drifted onward to find better options. It wasn’t until 1848, when a small expedition of 20 poor farmers arrived from Neira, a nearby village, and began a small settlement. They were people who dreamed of owning their own land, and creating their own opportunity in life.

It wasn’t easy, and violence ensued between them and a large regional landowner conglomerate known as the “Compañia” who were not interested in having neighbors OR competition.

The founding of Manizales went against the grain of these big landowners and regional controllers (known as Gonzales, Salazar y Cia). “Fue un esfuerzo por destruir el domino local de caciques y germinates, basado sore el system de influences e entries a favor de los mas poderosas.”/”It was an effort to destroy the local dominance of chiefs and first-comers, based on the system of influence and entreaties in favor of the most powerful.”

To learn more about the People of The Coffee Axis:

The Name Manizales

Much of the original architecture of the city still exists today!

After many conflicts, a government decree was finally issued giving the poor colonials their own pieces of land upon which was founded Manizales. In September of 1848, they chose the name, and by October, the governor of the region had approved it.

Manizales: source of the name = Rock called “mani” a gray granite which had elements of quartz, mica and feldspar in abundance in local rivers.

Early colonists declared it a “un gran manizal” or “region de muchos manizales.”

The Economy

In the later conflicts which were fed by church priests and meted out in flesh and blood by the people, the conservatives gained and held a stronghold against the liberals here in the city of Manizales. It was also a very important connection in sending cheese to the south, to Cartago (an important base for river trading), and valuable cocoa and hot climate fruits to the north.

The base of the economy of Manizales: Commerce, cheese, beef, coffee and mining. [1]

The Great Fire of 1922

One of the most remembered (and talked about) historic events, was the “Incendio,” or fire. It started at 3:00 am by a paraffin candle deposit in a shop. The fire burned hot and ripped through several buildings.

Ironically enough, the worst of the damage were all buildings which had been insured. The billard hall, the cantina and an opera house were all saved from the flames. During all this, only one person died. A police officer who had been working intensely close to the fire and who was doused with cold water – he died of pneumonia the next day. [5]

Metro Cable / Cable Areo

In 1912 construction began on the “cable areo,” or air cable, where cargo was transported from Mariquita, Tolima and delivered 72 kilometers to Manizales. It was finished in 1922 and operated until 1967. A trip which had previously taken 10 days now only took 10 hours. The displacement came about as developed roads gained force and reduced the cost and time of transport. [4]

Today, the modern cable areo transports thousands of passengers from the main bus terminal to the center (historic downtown) every day. Another line leaving in the opposite direction; also runs from that same main bus terminal, to the main plaza of nearby Villamaria, a suburb town.

The cable areo is a major icon of the city today, and features an original tower from Tolima standing on display in the main plaza of the zona rosa.

Arrieros (Mule & Oxen Teamsters)

Manizales was raised on the backs of brave and valiant teamsters who rode the long windy roads of the central corridor of the Andes Mountains with the supplies that the early colonists needed to survive.

Con Buena educacion, / With a good education

Hoy fuera un doctor de leyes. /  Today went a doctor of law.

Y tengo por profesión / A I have for a profession

Ser simple encargado de bueyes. / To be simply in charge of the oxen.

This poem was recorded in “Manizales, su Historia y su Cultura, Un Antologia.”

The Culture of Manizales

One of the most important events is the International Theater Festival in September.

There are several nicknames which are used in reference to Manizales:

  • The City Of Open Doors
  • The Pearl of Ruiz (mountain)
  • The World Capital of Coffee
  • The World Capital of Water
  • The University City of Colombia

Without a doubt, Manizales is one of the culture capitals of Colombia. Visitors will discover a vibrant art, music and dance scene that is very fluid with a high rate of participation by locals and visitors alike.

University Culture

One of the key economic components of the city, is the university scene which is characterized by more than 5 major universities and many more smaller technical institutes. [2] Locals will often tell you that this is an “academic climate,” where the cold lends itself to study and contemplation. This is evidenced by a special eco-park named “El Recinto de Pensamiento.” Be sure to go early for their 6 am birdwatching tour. In March, visitors can also intend an important Orchid Expo there (el Recinto de Pensamiento) as well.

Tango Dance Culture

One of the culture segments which is probably the most important yet the least spoken of, is Tango. A dance characterized by its technical intensity, sensuality and musicality – here it is loved as much as if it was created here and not in Argentina.

With more than a hundred years of tango culture and over 70 years of dance expression, the heart of Manizales beats along with the com-pas and connectors of this intense yet beautiful music style.

Interesting Fact: Visitors can absorb the art and romance in the ONLY calle del tango (Tango street), in the world.

For our exclusive VIP Tango Experience, send us an email at for more information.

Art, Music and Poetry in Manizales

Guillermo Gomez Ceron (left), is one of the many music talents who call Manizales home!

Some of the best artists in Manizales, are not very well known in Manizales. In fact, much of their art is sold and shown in the exterior of Colombia. Even so, there are many things which are well known, including an art scene which revolves around the bullfights, poetry, music and theater.

Interesting Fact: Manizales hosts the OLDEST theater festival in Latin America with more than 50 years running!

The best time to see art and culture in Manizales is during the annual “Feria de Manizales” in January, the International Theater Festival in September, the orchid expo in March, and the International Poetry Festival in August.

Interesting Fact: The theater (Teatro Fundadores) in Manizales, has the BEST acoustics in South America!

Cultural Coffee Landscape / Paisaje Cultural Cafetero

There’s something beautiful about the corners in particular.

As part of the cultural coffee landscape, Manizales is also the Capital of Coffee, in the Coffee Axis. Visitors can drink coffee in traditional cafeteria shops, on top of skyscrapers, sitting in a swing, listening to tango and in an exotic garden, in the middle of the city. The surrounding municipalities, places like Chinchina, Neira, Salamina, Aguadas, and many more, produce some of the best coffee available in Colombia today!

Visit one of the many single-origin coffee shops for unique tastes and presentations of our favorite caffeine brew.  Here are 5 Different Ways to Drink Coffee:

Toro Culture

Manizales is the Capital de la Fiesta Brava, or Bull Capital of Colombia. In yearly festivals, the Corrida, or bullfights, are responsible for an entire segment of the local economy which creates art, poetry, social projects and conservation of water sources. There is even a local society of Bull aficionados who celebrate the bull culture and lore in monthly meetings.

Recent years have seen massive local controversy over whether the Corrida should still be a part of Manizales culture.

Religious Monuments

A tremendous city for beautiful architecture.

One of the most famous city tours, is the cathedral tour which takes visitors up though the main Cathedral to the tip top cupola which features 360 degrees of breathtaking views of the city. The tour takes 1-2 hours depending on the physical abilities of participants. Be sure to wear comfy shoes and be careful not to overdo it. Mainzales sits at over 7,000 feet above sea level – if you have a heart condition, vertigo or pregnancy, then you might want to forgo this one.

Manizales, often joked as “having a church on every corner,” is an important religious destination in Colombia. Every year religious visitors come for the many beautiful churches throughout the older part of the city.


A city of depth, dimension and culture – Manizales is unique in comparison to virtually every other city in Colombia. On the third Saturday of each month, locals can buy fresh/organic fruits, vegetables and local products at the farmers market in the parking lot of U. Caldas on the Avenida Santander.

With an elevation of 2,160 meters (7,090 feet) above sea level, visitors must take care not to do too much in the thinner air. On the other hand, we have so much to show you, that only one article is not enough – and various will be needed.

Over time we will bring you more stories and adventures about Manizales and the surrounding pueblos and cities of the Coffee Axis. Come along with us as we discover the secrets of Caldas, Risaralda and Quindio!

For more information, or to plan your own unique experience, contact us at or +57 312 794 8245 via Whatsapp.


  1. Manizales, Su historia y su cultura – Una Antologia (2010)
  5. Londoño, L. Manizales 1936

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About the author

Coffee Axis Adventures and Expat Lifestyles meet Wit and Wordpress! I have been writing my whole life in one form or another, and blogging since 2012. My career as a professional writer began in 2013 and this is what I have been doing ever since! My personal mission: Create love and appreciation for local brands, products and entrepreneurial projects of value and quality. Do my part to participate in and help create, a strong local economy that supports local people and their families!


  1. Wally
    April 11, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    This is truly useful, thanks.

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